The 2012 Men's Spring Knitting Retreat is over and it's difficult (as it is always difficult!) to put into words how amazing the experience was. This year, 41 attendees made up the group, and we reconnected at the amazing Easton Mountain Retreat Center. It's a calm space where everyone is encouraged to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature while being surrounded by creative people. Recaps of these retreats end up being L-O-N-G and photo-heavy posts so I decided to attempt to divide it into 2 parts. Welcome to part one: a retreat review and ramblings about the "official" parts of the weekend.
The hammock at Easton
This year, I flew from San Francisco, CA to Albany, NY and met up with Aaron Bush. The retreat actually began Thursday afternoon, so we're going to fast forward past the "pre-show" and begin there.
Driving to Easton Mountain is refreshing. It's back roads that go from striped and paved to simply paved... to gravel... to narrow and what a city-person might think should be only one-way. Returning to Easton for the retreat is a bit like coming "home". It's walking into the large gathering room and hearing people call my name. It's not having a chance to put my bag down before there's a group of guys waiting to give me a hug; excited and happy that we are about to share this experience. Returning to a Men's Knitting Retreat is seeing familiar faces, recognizing people that I may have never met, but recognize through their blogs, twitter feeds, and facebook posts, and they feel like old friends. It's re-uniting with people who, through fiber, have become a big part of my life.
Arriving at Easton, we are greeted with Easton Mountain (in the background of the video below). The Center used to be a ski lodge and now it's just a beautiful space to retreat and relax. The sounds of nature are so different from those I hear waking up in San Francisco! I thought making a short video of walking down the driveway to the lake might help you understand how amazing and magical this place is.
...and here's a listen at the birds singing one morning during the retreat. It really was a "change of pace" that allowed us to all decompress, relax and recharge.
During the retreat, we usually go on one field trip. This time, it was to Ewetopia Farm in Whitehall, NY. The drive through the beautiful country could have been outing enough, but turning into the driveway of Chris and Max Crossman was a true treat. Chris had set up a small shop with a selection of fibers and yarns for us to peruse, featuring her Cotswold sheep locks! It wasn't long before I started to explore the immediate area, taking photo after photo of this idyllic place! Here are a few of my favorites:
We met one of the Rams and he was in LOVE with us because we all took turns scratching him on his back where he can't reach. (That's Farmer Max holding the lead to this sweet animal.) His fleece is beautiful and from what Chris said she is going to continue breeding him to hopefully get some more of his coat characteristics in the flock. I remember last time I was at the MSKR we visited Alpacas of Easton, and the owner was talking about phenotype and genotype and it made me smile since that was what had just been discussed in my Biology course. Years later, it wasn't a fluke. That same talk was being given at this sheep farm! Lesson here: If you want to be a success at raising fiber flocks, chances are you'll need to have a good understanding of these topics.
In addition to the sheep, the Crossman's have a few horses and some adorable dogs! These two were beyond sweet. Leddie (on the left) is a bit of a guard dog and a BIG dog at that. She's standing on the road that leads to the farm's sugar shack! The other doggie was a fat old sweetie and just wanted its belly rubbed! (Click any of the smaller photos to enlarge them).
See? I haven't even begun to talk about spinning or the workshops.... trying to explain what the retreat is like is a difficult process. It's seriously something that simply must be experienced. There were a number of workshops, and I was able to participate in two: learning how to spin (with Aaron Bush), and knitting and purling backwards (with Matthew Hesson-McInnis). The spinning workshop helped me continue to hone my skills as I learn more and more about my Sidekick wheel. Aaron was a gentle teacher, helping the guys wrangle fiber and spin it into yarn. I was able to offer a little guidance to my neighbors, and I think that at least one participant decided to purchase a wheel by the time he had returned home! Knitting and purling backwards with Matthew was more of a focused exercise. His instructional style is suprisingly gentle; asking the students to follow a few simple steps to really understand what happens when a stitch is made. With a little practice, we were all doing it! (Slowly, but we WERE doing it!) The technique will come in handy for ribbing or stockinette almost immediately. All it'll take is a bit of work to get faster at it but will be well worth it.
Probably the biggest treat to attending these retreats is sitting outside, knitting, spinning, crocheting, and talking with new (and old) friends about ideas, experiences, techniques and, life in general. The world often gets in the way and we don't find time to take care of ourselves; these few recharging days allows for just that. It's rewarding, relaxing and inspirational to be at a Men's Knitting Retreat.
We have a tag sale during the retreat where we offer special fibers, books, magazines and finished objects for sale to the other attendees. It's a chance for us to donate a percentage of the sale to a scholarship fund which helps some guys attend who otherwise couldn't. This year, Bill Jones from San Francisco hand-knit this AMAZING teddy bear and we put it out for silent auction. John Wise was the high bidder and the envied one who got to take this sweet bear home! (If you enlarge the photo, you can see the intarsia around the eyes and inside the ears where Bill used subtle color changes to highlight these spots.) Bill said that he plans to make one of these bears for each of the retreats.
A visit to this part of the country would simply not be complete without a visit to the Ice Cream Man! They have been in business for nearly two decades and I can't imagine a trip to this area without visiting and getting a couple scoops of their amazing hand-crafted ice cream. We also got ice cream from the Ice Cream Man for movie night - where we all gather and knit/spin/weave/crochet our way through a movie (or two!)
...speaking of eating, the food at Easton is certainly worth mentioning. It's healthy, thoughtfully prepared, and, quite frankly, delicious. They are considerate of dietary needs and I never went without a full tummy while visiting. There's no soft drinks, so it was also a great opportunity to stop drinking so much Diet Coke!
Gosh. There's so much to talk about - and even if I wrote 100 pages about the few days we were together, I'd still be leaving a lot out. Once more: It's impossible to express what this retreat means. It is an amazing experience and for those men who might want to find out what it's like to attend one of these retreats, there are a few coming up! Visit the Men's Knitting Retreat website to learn more.
I'll be writing more in a few days; sharing about the excursions before the retreat including our visit to one of Aaron's favorite yarn shops and a fantastic local mill.
I had the opportunity to do a commission project for a New York based video producer. The project essentially was to create a knitted cozy to go over this piece of electronic equipment. He thought it was ironic to use something as traditional as hand knitting to create a cover for something so high tech.
I started the project by doing some research. I wanted to learn what exactly this thing was... how big was it? What is it used for. That search brought me to YouTube where I discovered a few videos explaining the product. After a while, I realized that it was something to do color correction for video post production... I learned that it's a very expensive piece of equipment, and finally, I realized I am thankful that I don't have to learn how to use it! My job was simple: create a knitted version of the station.
It took quite a whie to make this piece - using US2 circular needles and playing with charting software to come up with the proper layout for the piece. In the end, I decided to be somewhat realistic with the cozy while keeping it whimsical. The end result was a fun cover that will do its duty for years; covering this expensive piece of post production equipment.
The face of the cover was knitted flat, from side to side, and then I picked up the stitches around the face and knit ribbing to create the sides. The design was duplicate stitched onto the background and, in the end, I'm pretty proud of this cover. If you'd like to view or "like" the project on Ravelry, here's a LINK to it's project page. I'm looking forward to the next fiber-related challenge!